It’s interesting what kids pick up on and what they don’t. My fifth-grader came into my office last night after reading his science assignment.
“Mom,” he said as he put his hand on my shoulder in a reassuring way, “I don’t want to upset you because you’re all about the vegetables, but not all corn is good corn. I just learned that in science.”
There was a two-page lesson on genetically modified corn in his science book, and the book actually mentioned that some scientists are concerned it could be harmful.
On the one hand, I was thrilled that the book tackled the subject, however briefly. On the other hand, I had to wonder, “How did my son not realize that I know this information already?”
Me, the “eco-friendly food blogger” for Mother Nature Network. The woman, who just a few hours earlier at the dinner table, had asked my family how they liked the new type of biscuits I was serving, and then I told them that the Immaculate Baking Company’s biscuits they were eating were non-GMO verified.
I wondered, do I talk so much about food that he’s stopped listening?
It turns out that he is listening — mostly. I decided to read the two pages in the science book over with him to find out exactly what was being said about genetically modified corn.
The first information the book had was about the uses of corn. It explained that not all corn gets eaten off the cob or made into popcorn. A lot of it gets turned into animal feed, and much of it gets turned into a sweetener that’s used in processed foods like soda, cereal and candy.
“The sweetener they’re talking about,” I told him, “is usually called high fructose corn syrup.”
“Mom, you hate that stuff. It’s the whole reason we hardly ever have soda.”
(“Not the whole reason,” I thought to myself, “but I can’t get off on a tangent.”)
The lesson went on to say that a huge percentage of corn gets lost to a bug called the European corn borer and that spraying the plants with Bacillus thuringiensis, a pesticide, isn’t efficient enough to get rid of all the corn borers. So Bt corn was developed, a corn that has Bacillus thuringiensis right in the kernel. That type of corn is genetically modified.
Very briefly, the book mentioned that scientists are concerned about how this genetically modified corn can affect both human health and the health of the ecosystem where the corn is planted, but it didn’t go into much detail.
We talked about the human health aspect briefly. I reminded him of the biscuits we’d eaten earlier and how I told him they were non-GMO verified. He hadn’t known GM in GMO stood for genetically modified. He’d been listening. I’d just been talking in jargon.
Then I showed him Cornstalks Everywhere But Nothing Else, Not Even A Bee, a very well-written NPR piece from last year that explains how in a cornfield where corn was specifically bred to fight pests, the ecosystem has all been but destroyed. Where there should have been dozens of beneficial insects, animals and birds, almost nothing but corn was found.
We read it together. My son was starting to get information overload. It was 9 p.m. He’d had a full day of school, a full afternoon of playing in the woods (he smelled like a Christmas tree when he got home — it was awesome), and a full evening of homework.
Even though it was time to let the conversation go, I could see he was intrigued by what we had discussed. So was I. He wasn’t the only one who had learned something from his science lesson.
I learned a little bit about genetically modified corn, but I also learned that I need to not assume that my kids know everything I know about food just because I talk about it all the time. Sometimes I use terms they aren’t familiar with. Sometimes I’m giving them information when they’ve already had so much shoved into their minds that day that they need a break. And sometimes, I imagine, they just aren’t listening.
But, that’s okay. It’s getting through to them a little at a time.